Part 2: The Emotional Dynamics of Dysfunctional Romantic Relationships

"It is normal for relationships in this society to deteriorate into power struggles over who is right and who is wrong"

This is a continuation of the web page: The Emotional Dynamics of Dysfunctional Romantic Relationships

Here are two excerpts from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls:

Behavioral Defenses

"I am now going to share with you some new descriptions that I came up with in regard to these behavioral defenses. We adopt different degrees and combinations of these various types of behavior as our personal defense system, and we swing from one extreme to the other within our own personal spectrum. I am going to share these with you because I find them enlightening and amusing and to make a point.

The Aggressive-Aggressive defense, is what I call the "militant bulldozer." This person, basically the counterdependent, is the one whose attitude is "I don't care what anyone thinks." This is someone who will run you down and then tell you that you deserved it. This is the "survival of the fittest," hard-driving capitalist, self-righteous religious fanatic, who feels superior to most everyone else in the world. This type of person despises the human "weakness" in others because he/she is so terrified and ashamed of her/his own humanity.

The Aggressive-Passive person, or "self-sacrificing bulldozer," will run you down and then tell you that they did it for your own good and that it hurt them more than it did you. These are the types of people who aggressively try to control you "for your own good" - because they think that they know what is "right" and what you "should" do and they feel obligated to inform you. This person is constantly setting him/herself up to be the perpetrator because other people do not do things the "right" way, that is, his/her way.

The Passive-Aggressive, or "militant martyr," is the person who smiles sweetly while cutting you to pieces emotionally with her/his innocent sounding, double-edged sword of a tongue. These people try to control you "for your own good" but do it in more covert, passive-aggressive ways. They "only want the best for you," and sabotage you every chance they get. They see themselves as wonderful people who are continually and unfairly being victimized by ungrateful loved ones - and this victimization is their main topic of conversation/focus in life because they are so self-absorbed that they are almost incapable of hearing what other people are saying.

The Passive-Passive, or "self-sacrificing martyr," is the person who spends so much time and energy demeaning him/herself, and projecting the image that he/she is emotionally fragile, that anyone who even thinks of getting mad at this person feels guilty. They have incredibly accurate, long-range, stealth guilt torpedoes that are effective even long after their death. Guilt is to the self-sacrificing martyr what stink is to a skunk: the primary defense.

These are all defense systems adopted out of a necessity to survive. They are all defensive disguises whose purpose is to protect the wounded, terrified child within.

These are broad general categories, and individually we can combine various degrees and combinations of these types of behavioral defenses in order to protect ourselves."


"The expanded usage of the term "Codependent" now includes counterdependent behavior. We have come to understand that both the passive and the aggressive behavioral defense systems are reactions to the same kinds of childhood trauma, to the same kinds of emotional wounds. The Family Systems Dynamics research shows that within the family system, children adopt certain roles according to their family dynamics. Some of these roles are more passive, some are more aggressive, because in the competition for attention and validation within a family system the children must adopt different types of behaviors in order to feel like an individual.

A large part of what we identify as our personality is in fact a distorted view of who we really are due to the type of behavioral defenses we adopted to fit the role or roles we were forced to assume according to the dynamics of our family system."

(For more understanding of codependent and counterdependent behavioral defenses see Codependent Relationships Dynamics - part 3, Codependent & Counterdependent Behavior)

Classic Codependent Couple

Each of us has our own spectrum of behavioral defenses to protect us from fear of intimacy. We can be codependent in one relationship and counterdependent in another - or we can swing from co to counter - within the same relationship. {Play}



Come here

Fear of abandonment issues

*People pleasing, gentle, nice & kind - sometimes seems pathetic and weak

*Avoids conflict, can't own anger - sets self up to be victim because of not having boundaries (feels unfairly unappreciated or shamefully unlovable)

Able to be emotionally vulnerable but often in manipulative way (cries instead of expressing anger)

When afraid that abandonment is happening can get needy and clingy - beg, grovel, abandon self completely

Terror of intimacy causes them to pick unavailable people (don't believe they truly deserve someone available and loving)

Sees setting boundaries as being controlling

Sometimes calls childish clinging love


*(passively controlling & manipulative)


Go away

Fear of being taken hostage, of being smothered

*Tough, strong and independent - sometimes seems abrasive, abusive, and cold

*Uses anger as shield, has walls instead of boundaries - often overreacts then isolates in shame (feels like "bitch"/"bastard" etc.)

Terrified of being emotionally vulnerable - feels life threatening (to be "weak" "wimpy" "needy")

Is terrified of needy, clingy part of self so reacts to perceived neediness by being cold, mean

Terror of intimacy causes them to be unavailable, to run from someone who loves them - often feel that they are incapable of loving

Sometimes uses setting boundaries as way of controlling

Sometimes sees caring as being clingy


*(aggressively controlling & manipulative)

(From Q & A page about passive-aggressive behavior)

"Passive-aggressive behavior is the expression of anger indirectly. This happens because we got the message one way or another in childhood that it was not OK to express anger. Since anger is energy that can not be completely repressed it gets expressed in indirect ways. This takes the form one way or another, overtly or subtly, of us acting out the Codependent battle cry "I'll show you I'll get me.": As a kid I was very angry at my mother for not protecting me or herself from my father - but it was not ok to be angry at my mother so I was passive-aggressive in various ways. One was to not show any feelings. By the time I was 7 or 8 I was being cool in a passive-aggressive response to her attempts to be close to me I would not let her touch me, I would not show happiness if something good happened or pain if something bad happened. I would just say "it's ok" no matter how much it wasn't. I also "showed" her and my dad by not getting the type of grades as I was capable of getting in school. I have spent much of my life sabotaging myself to get back at them.

Passive-aggressive behavior can take the form of sarcasm, procrastination, chronic lateness, being a party pooper, constantly complaining, being negative, offering opinions and advice that is not asked for, being the martyr, slinging arrows ("whatever have you done to your hair", "gained a little weight haven't we?"), etc. If we don't know how to set boundaries or will go along with anything to avoid conflict, then we often will agree to doing things we don't want to do - and as a result we will not be happy doing them and will get back at the other person somehow, someway because we are angry at them for "making" us do something we don't want to do. A classic codependent scenario is being asked where you want to eat and saying "oh, I don't care, wherever you want to" and then being angry because they take us somewhere we don't like. We think they should be able to read our mind and know we don't want to do whatever. Typically, in relationships, one partner will ask the other to do something and the person who can't say "I don't want to do that" - will agree to do it and then not do it. This will result in nagging and scolding which will cause more anger and passive-aggressive behavior.

The way to stop being passive-aggressive is to start being honest (first of all with ourselves), having boundaries (the more we get in touch with our inner children the more we can have boundaries with the angry ones that are causing us to be passive-aggressive), saying no when we don't want to do something. It is easier said than done. On one level what we are doing is recreating our childhood dynamics of being criticized by our parents. It is because at our core we feel unworthy and unlovable that we have relationships - romantic, friendship, work - where we will be criticized and given the message that we are bad or wrong. Because we don't Love our self we need to manifest people outside of ourselves that will be our critical parent - then we can resent them, feel victimized, and be passive-aggressive. They are in fact just a reflection of how we treat ourselves internally. The more we can learn to defend ourselves internally from the critical parent voice the more we will find that we don't want critical people in our lives." {Play}

Q & A # 7

"I dated a woman for a while who had been practicing meditation for many years - it was very interesting for me to observe (I was at a point in my process where I was working on letting go of rescuing and needing to change the other person - so I was just observing) how she ignored conflict. We never did any processing of difficulties which arose because she would act as if it never happened. Avoiding conflict also denies intimacy - we cannot be emotionally intimate with someone we can't be angry at. Conflict is an inherent part of relationships and is to be worked through to grow from - conflict is an important part of the garden that grows deeper intimacy." {Play}

Q & A # 8

The last part of this web article contained some quotes from a workshop handout that was written in February of 99 about how inner child dynamics affected romantic relationships. That material was later expanded into the web article focused on The Inner Children that need Boundaries.